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Contradictions emerge during Opry arson trial
Updated on: 01.29.14

On the witness stand Tuesday, former Little Nashville Opry owner Esther Hamilton stated that neither she nor the country music venue were in financial trouble.

“I never owed a dime when the Opry burned,” she said.

On Wednesday, Alan Strange, a forensic auditor with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) testified otherwise.

He said Hamilton and the Opry owed roughly $1.5 million in short- and long-term loans and operating expenses such as utilities, insurance and performer fees on Sept. 19, 2009. That was the day someone poured an ignitable liquid on and near the Opry stage and lit it on fire.

At the same time, the five Opry banking accounts contained a total of about $8,500, according to the ATF.

On day five of testimony, Prosecutor Jim Oliver focused on the gambling habits of Hamilton and the person she called her best friend, 77-year-old James D. Bowyer.

Bowyer is the former Opry business manager on trial for allegedly starting the fire that destroyed the Opry.

Oliver asked Strange to explain his findings from four Indiana casinos. The ATF officer said records from 2005 to 2009 show that Hamilton visited the casinos on 816 days. She spent $4.2 million and lost $152,000.

During the same time frame, Bowyer lost $163,000, while betting $1.7 million during 650 visits, according to Strange.

Hamilton testified that Bowyer did not gamble. She added that she gambled just “a couple times a month” when she got the chance.

Throughout the trial, defense attorney John Boren asked multiple witnesses if they were aware that Hamilton suffered a stroke in May 2013. Those who knew about the stroke indicated that the effects of it continue to linger.

On cross examination of Strange, Boren wanted to know if his investigation showed any evidence that Bowyer owned stock in Little Nashville Enterprises or contracted with the corporation that owned the Opry. Strange answered no to both matters.

Boren got Strange to say that the burning of the Opry differed in outcome from the sale of the Opry. A sale would have resulted in Bowyer receiving roughly $300,000, according to four promissory notes Bowyer wrote that were salvaged from the fire debris.

Strange also agreed that the Opry could have been rebuilt from the more than $3 million in insurance proceeds if the claim had been paid out.

The insurance money was never awarded. A judge ruled in favor of the insurance company because more than 50 percent of the sprinkler system had been dismantled, according to court records.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Oliver said he plans to rest the state’s side of the case by midday.

Read more in the Feb. 5 issue of the Brown County Democrat.

Obituaries
See Full List »

George R. Osborn, 69, Brown County
  Husband of Sharon L.G. “Sherry” (Ford) Osborn of Nashville

Glenda Leonard, 75, Nineveh
  

Mary Elizabeth Vehslage, 97, Seymour
  Helped establish Happy Hollow Children's Camp in Brown County

  • March 4
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • March 4
    Nashville Main Street Committee
    9:30 a.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • March 4
    Brown County SWCD
    5 p.m. SWCD Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • March 4
    Nashville Development Review Commission
    5 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • March 4
    Woodworkers Club
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • March 5
    Go Club meeting Thursday
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  • March 5
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • March 5
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • March 5
    Nashville Town Council
    6:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • March 5
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    6:30 p.m. BCJHS, 95 School House Lane
  • March 5
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • March 6
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • March 6
    'SpongeBob Movie' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • March 7
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • March 7
    Meet your legislators at County Office Building
    10 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • March 7
    Meet 'Wilderness Plots' author at the library
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • March 7
    Music celebration at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • March 7
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • March 8
    'Wilderness Plots'-themed concert planned
    4 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • March 8
    Brown County bridal tour slated
    10 a.m. to 6 p.m. various locations
  • March 8
    'SpongeBob Movie' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • March 9
    Beeline beekeepers club
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • March 10
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • March 10
    Soil & water conservation district to celebrate 62 years
    6 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • March 10
    Peaceful Valley Heritage meeting
    6:30 p.m. Brown County Presbyterian Fellowship, 602 State Road 135 North
  • March 10
    CSCD Roads, Security commissions
    6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. CSCD Office, 8377 Cordry Drive; CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • March 11
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • March 12
    Go Club at the library Thursdays
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • March 12
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • March 13
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North.
  • March 14
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • March 14
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • March 19
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • March 20
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • March 21
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • March 21
    Jackson Township VFD yard sale
    8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jackson Township Fire Department, 4831 Helmsburg Road
  • April 24
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 25
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 26
    County history center dedication slated
    2 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • April 26
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont